Iraq Launches Offensive On Last ISIS Stronghold In Mosul

Iraqi troops turn an Islamic State flag upside down after the liberation of Fallujah last year

The offensive to retake Mosul's west bank that began on Sunday could be the most brutal fighting yet in a four-month-old operation on Iraq's second city, where the leader of the Islamic State group declared a "caliphate" in 2014.

The recapture of the strategic hill of Albu Saif is crucial for the Iraqi forces, as the area will give the troops the ability to command IS positions in the southern neighborhoods and inside the airport.

Iraq's militarized federal police, USA -trained rapid response units and the Iraqi army will also participate.

Last October, the Iraqi army - backed by the USA -led coalition and local allies on the ground - began a wide-ranging campaign to retake Mosul, which the terrorist group overran in mid-2014.

The announcement of the attack marks the beginning of what could be an even tougher and more lethal phase of the fight for Mosul, the largest city that fell under ISIS control.

ISIS militants are essentially under siege in western Mosul, along with an estimated 650,000 civilians, after US-backed forces surrounding the city.

"The ultimate success of the offensive will be judged not on how many districts and villages are taken back but on how well Iraqi forces and the US -led coalition protect civilians in the coming weeks and months", said the Norwegian Refugee Council's Country Director in Iraq, Wolfgang Gressmann.

DISTURBING footage which appears to show Iraqi troops whipping and torturing civilians has emerged as coalition-backed forces launched a battle to retake Mosul.

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The Islamic State's bombers have carried out an unrelenting series of attacks on civilians throughout Iraq during the current military campaign, including a bombing at a vehicle market in Baghdad that killed at least 51 people on February 16.

Three in five of Mosul's civilians now depend on untreated water from wells following strikes on infrastructure, according to...

The Iraqi forces plan is to turn the airport into a close support base for the onslaught into western Mosul itself.

Leaflets have been dropped over the west of the city by the Iraqi army to warn residents that a liberation offensive is imminent.

Unlike the east, much of the west is composed of old houses forming narrow alleyways, making the use of armoured vehicles more hard and promising a tougher fight. About 160,000 civilians have been displaced since the last offensive, and that number is now expected to rise by about 400,000.

About 160,000 civilians have been displaced since the start of the offensive in October, UN officials say.

Aid organisations had feared an exodus of unprecedented proportions before the start of the Mosul operation, but half a million residents stayed home in east Mosul. The U.N. estimates that 750,000 civilians may be left in western Mosul.

"The US forces continue in the same role as they did in east Mosul", Mr Mattis said.

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